In Ukraine, teenagers yearn for a sense of normalcy: strolling with friends, enjoying music on the streets, attending school, and pursuing their dreams. Tragically, their lives and aspirations have been shattered by the Russian invasion. Instead of a carefree existence, these young individuals find themselves battling for survival. They have witnessed the loss of their homes, family members, friends, and the safe environments where they once thrived during their formative years. The destruction caused by the conflict has ravaged hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings. These young people used to aspire to careers as journalists, doctors, and entrepreneurs, but now their primary desire is a place to call home, a mere shelter with a roof over their heads.
Some have been forced to flee, while others have chosen to stay and fight. Overnight, these Ukrainian teenagers have been burdened with a responsibility that even adults may struggle to bear. The loss of loved ones and the traumatic circumstances they find themselves in have a profound impact on their personal growth and mental well-being. Despite facing immense destruction and unexpected aggression from Russia, these resilient teens strive to rebuild a future for themselves. We can rally behind their unwavering determination and resilience as they strive to rebuild their future once more.
Story: Teens in Ukrainian
According to the recent local news, two teenagers lost their lives on Saturday at an embankment in the Ukraine city of Berdyansk, allegedly at the hands of Russian authorities. The Media Initiative for Human Rights, a Ukrainian nonprofit organization, reported that these teenagers had suffered torture at the hands of Russian law enforcement. They were coerced into confessing their involvement in a plot to disrupt the Melitopol railway, thereby impeding the supply routes of Russian forces. The mother of one of the teenage victims expressed profound sorrow at the absence of her child on what should have been his 17th birthday.
In the Atlantics, Ira, an 18 years old girl, shared her story. She painted a poignant picture of what could have been without the war: carefree moments spent picnicking with her best friends, hanging out in the courtyard, climbing trees, and cooking food over an open fire in their now-destroyed apartment, a casualty of Russian bombardment. The place that once held joyful memories for Ira and her friend has now become a grave, where Ira assisted her best friend in burying her parents. Ira led her disabled father, her grandmother, and her best friend away from the only home she had ever known, forced to abandon her mother who remained trapped in Russian-controlled territory. This traumatic experience shattered Ira’s dreams and cast a shadow over her aspirations as a reporter studying at the university.
“From now on, my house will always be associated with the war” Oleksandra, a 17 years old girl, opened up about the destruction caused by the war in an interview with UNICEF in October, 2022. She and her family had to repair the roof and glass window of the house before the onset of winter. Unfortunately, these makeshift repairs offered little protection against the harsh elements of wind and rain. One day, she and her family had to seek refuge in a cramped and dark cellar for two weeks where she doubted their survival. Besides, her father went missing without knowing any information. The relentless challenges have exacted a toll on her mental and physical well-being, leaving her health weakened. As her friends are scattered across the globe for safety, she has nobody to talk to. She shares that her writing gives her strength to calm her mind to live day by day.
Impact of the War
Like the stories that teens in Ukraine shared above, there are significant numbers of teens that have been impacted by the war. According to the 2022 data by UNDP, youth expressed concerns about health (50%), mental health (22%), food insecurity and inability to cover their basic needs (40%), physical safety (27%), limited opportunities for self-realization and difficulties in finding jobs (19%). Material values such as wealth and career held less importance, as nearly 40% of youth struggled to meet their basic needs in 2022. According to the data, 82% of youth in Ukraine experienced significant losses due to the war. The conflict has taken a toll on their mental well-being, while 27% consumer inflation has deeply affected their livelihoods. It is highly improbable that anyone in Ukraine has been untouched by the adverse implications of war.
Further, teens are in the crucial stages of physical and psychological development. The war can jeopardize their health and development while experiencing brutal acts of violence, including torture, loss of life, or severe injuries that can result in lifelong disabilities. The insufficient nutrition and limited access to proper sanitation can lead to a weakened immune system and high probability of infectious diseases. Orphaned teens are often left to navigate life on the streets, exposing them to the danger of exploitation and substance abuse. The destruction of schools hampers access to education and employment prospects, depriving them of one of the most prospective factors in their lives.
The psychological and emotional toll on adolescents in the aftermath of war can have long-lasting effects on their well-being and future opportunities. Post‐traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression are the most prevalent mental health disorders experienced by young individuals affected by conflict. The symptoms of PTSD can manifest in various ways, exhibiting fear, anger, sadness, horror, or denial. Physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches may also arise, alongside emotional reactions and disturbances in sleep patterns. Furthermore, adolescents who have experienced cumulative exposure to war and those grappling with PTSD resulting from war events are at a significantly higher risk of developing substance abuse issues.
The burden of conflict not only exacts a tremendous toll on the affected individuals themselves but also imposes a profound social cost on future generations.
Resilience that Build Future
Youth residing outside of Ukraine ranked personal freedom as their third priority (60%), followed by benefiting their country (57%) in fourth place. Also, the proportion of young people choosing to remain in Ukraine has risen to 66% in 2022, up from 48% in 2021. This shift can be attributed to a resurgence of patriotic sentiments and an improvement in social cohesion, as young individuals feel a stronger attachment to their homeland and an increased sense of solidarity in the face of adversity. Further, the war aimed at undermining Ukrainian independence has instead fostered a stronger and more cohesive Ukrainian identity founded on the principles of freedom and democracy. For instance, Ukrainian youth emerged as leaders during the Euromaidan Revolution in response to the Ukrainian government’s Kremlin-backed decision to reject the Agreement with the European Union. As Ukraine faces ongoing challenges to its sovereignty from Russia, youth are not afraid of standing up for the future of their country.
Tyshchenko, an 18-year-old, is another example of the unwavering spirit of teenagers who assert their rights to dignity and property. Despite a long and freezing winter without heat and power, she chose to stay at her home and in her yard, where her sense of belonging resides. In the midst of adversity, her determination and resilience inspire others with her commitment to her values and homeland.
How to Support
Prioritizing the needs and aspirations of Ukrainian teens is of utmost importance as they strive for education, employment, and the opportunity to lead fulfilling lives. To support young Ukrainians, it is crucial to deeply understand their specific needs, address any barriers that hinder their participation, and ensure their active involvement in local decision-making. Key areas of focus should include ensuring equitable access to healthcare, expanding financial assistance and career education opportunities for young people, investing in local infrastructure, implementing targeted programs to support vulnerable groups, integrating youth voices into peacebuilding efforts, and providing support to existing youth recovery initiatives. Effective communication through popular platforms should also be utilized to engage and inform young Ukrainians about available resources and opportunities. By implementing these measures, we can foster the well-being and active participation of young Ukrainians in the country's development and recovery. By placing the needs of Ukrainian teens at the forefront, we can create an inclusive and supportive environment that enables them to thrive and contribute to a brighter future for themselves and their nation.
- Skills development and diverse career paths
Resilient individuals are more inclined to actively participate in their communities and drive positive change. In the midst of the ongoing war in Ukraine, many young people have been compelled to develop new skills and enhance their resilience. Equipping them with additional skills such as leadership, public speaking, advocacy, language proficiency, entrepreneurship, as well as practical abilities like mechanics, engineering, power generation, and IT can enhance their effectiveness as agents of change. It is also important to expand financial assistance and provide supplementary income opportunities for teenagers, enabling them to shape a brighter future.
- Special attention to mental health services
Addressing the mental health needs of adolescents affected by war is crucial for their recovery and overall well-being. Providing access to appropriate mental health services, counseling, and support systems can help mitigate the long-term impact of trauma, allowing young individuals to heal, regain a sense of stability, and pursue future opportunities. These efforts include large-scale financial support to expand health services and personnels and dissemination of information and education related to mental health.
- Civic and peace education - integrate teens voices in the process of peacebuilding
As Ukraine rebuilds, it is essential to continue supporting, listening to, and involving the younger generation to ensure their central role in the post-war recovery process. The resilient response of Ukraine to Russian aggression demonstrates the nation's commitment to democratic values and the active participation of its citizens. It showcases the remarkable willingness of young Ukrainians to take personal responsibility for the country's future. Despite the devastating impact of the Russian invasion, young Ukrainians are instrumental in strengthening the national identity, marking a strategic victory for the future of Ukraine's sovereignty.
Teens will play a vital role in Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction. The current landscape of instability and constant change emphasizes the utmost significance of resilience, particularly for today's young generation. Recognizing the importance of prioritizing youth and nurturing their skills and capabilities, it is crucial for global and local supporters at various levels to extend their efforts. Helping War Victims wholeheartedly supports assisting Ukrainian teens cultivating resilience and essential skills that will contribute to building a brighter future for the country.
THIS ARTICLE WAS CREATED BY STELLA BALDWIN